Putin, Biden plan high-stakes phone call in Ukraine crisis – NBC Chicago

As the risk of war looms ever higher, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden held a high-stakes phone call on Saturday as a tense world watched and feared an invasion of Ukraine doesn’t start in a few days.

Before speaking to Biden, Putin had a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met him in Moscow earlier in the week to try to resolve the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the cold War. A summary of the Kremlin appeal suggested little progress had been made in calming tensions.

The closely watched call between Biden and Putin began shortly after 11 a.m. and lasted just over an hour, according to the White House. Biden made the call from Camp David. There were no immediate details of the discussion.

In a sign that US officials were preparing for the worst-case scenario, the United States announced its intention to evacuate its embassy in the Ukrainian capital, and Britain joined other European countries in urging its citizens to leave Ukraine.

Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and sent troops to drills in neighboring Belarus, but denies plans to launch an offensive against Ukraine.

The timing of possible Russian military action remained a key question.

The United States has collected intelligence that Russia considers Wednesday a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and only did so on condition of anonymity, did not say how definitive the information was. The White House has publicly stressed that the United States does not know for sure whether Putin is engaged in the invasion.

However, US officials again said Russia’s firepower buildup near Ukraine had reached the point where it could invade on short notice.

A Kremlin statement about the Putin-Macron call referred to “provocative speculation about an allegedly planned Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine.” Russia has always denied that it was planning military action against its neighbour.

Putin also complained in the call that the United States and NATO have failed to respond satisfactorily to Russian demands to ban Ukraine from joining the military alliance and that NATO is withdrawing its Eastern European forces.

Biden has said the US military will not go to war in Ukraine, but he has promised tough economic sanctions against Moscow, along with international allies.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told his Russian counterpart on Saturday that “further Russian aggression would be met with a resolute, massive and united transatlantic response.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tried to project calm as he watched military drills near Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, on Saturday.

“We are not afraid, we are without panic, everything is under control,” he said.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, also held telephone talks on Saturday.

British troops training the Ukrainian army also planned to leave the country. Germany, the Netherlands and Italy have called on their citizens to leave as soon as possible.

A State Department travel advisory said on Saturday that most US embassy employees in Kiev have been ordered to leave and other US citizens are also expected to leave the country.

New US-Russian tensions surfaced on Saturday when the Defense Ministry summoned the US Embassy’s military attache after he said the Navy had detected a US submarine in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands in the Pacific. . The submarine refused the order to leave, but left after the navy used unspecified “appropriate means”, the ministry said.

Adding to the sense of crisis, the Pentagon ordered the dispatch of 3,000 additional American troops to Poland to reassure the allies.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Americans in Ukraine shouldn’t expect the US military to rescue them in case air and rail travel is disrupted after a Russian invasion.

Several NATO allies, including Britain, Canada, Norway and Denmark, have also asked their citizens to leave Ukraine, as has non-NATO ally New Zealand.

Sullivan said Russian military action could begin with missile and air attacks, followed by a ground offensive.

“Russia has all the forces it needs to take major military action,” Sullivan said, adding that “Russia may choose, at very short notice, to begin major military action against Ukraine.” He said the scale of such an invasion could range from a limited incursion to a strike on Kyiv, the capital.

Russia has mocked the American discourse on urgency.

“The White House hysteria is more telling than ever,” said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry. “The Anglo-Saxons need a war. At all costs. Provocations, misinformation and threats are a preferred method of solving their own problems.

Zakharova said her country had “optimized” its own embassy staff in Kyiv in response to concerns about possible military actions by the Ukrainian side.

In addition to the more than 100,000 ground troops that US officials say Russia has mustered along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, the Russians have deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to support a war. This week, Russia moved six amphibious assault ships into the Black Sea, increasing its ability to land marines on the coast.

Sullivan’s stern warning accelerated the expected timeline for a potential invasion, something many analysts thought unlikely before the end of the Winter Olympics in China on Feb. 20. Sullivan said the combination of additional Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders and unspecified intelligence indicators prompted the administration to warn that war could begin at any moment.

“We can’t determine the day at this point, and we can’t determine the time, but it’s a very, very distinct possibility,” Sullivan said.

Biden has bolstered the US military presence in Europe to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank. The 3,000 additional soldiers ordered in Poland come on top of the 1,700 who are on the way. The US military is also transferring 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, which, like Poland, shares a border with Ukraine.

Russia demands that the West keep former Soviet countries out of NATO. It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed more than 14,000 people.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany stopped large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.

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Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Mark Lewis in Stavanger, Norway, also contributed to this report.

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